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Monday
Jun132011

Nestle Invests Billions to Decode Digestive Systems

FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images(VEVEY, Switzerland) -- Nestle, the world's largest food company -- responsible for making Eskimo Pies, Haagen-Dazs ice cream, and Tombstone frozen pizza -- has invested billions of dollars to research metabolic disorders and improve nutrition in our diets.

Headquartered near the tranquil waters of Lake Geneva in Vevey, Switzerland, the Nestle Research Center hosts a team of top food scientists dedicated to decoding the human metabolism. The company also agreed to purchase Prometheus Laboratories Inc, a maker of treatments for cancer and gastrointestinal illnesses, Bloomberg reported last month.

Metabolomics, or the study of the chemical processes of the human metabolism, is a relatively new field of science. It has only been around for about 10 years, according to Nestle researcher Alastair Ross.

Using artificial body parts, scientists test the digestion cycles of infants, adults -- even dogs. In one experiment, they pumped strawberry yogurt through an artificial human intestine filled with acids, enzymes and pig bile. There are millions of receptors in the gut that give feedback to the brain, including the feeling of satiety or hunger.

They're also trying to decode what consumers -- too young to talk -- think about different foods.

"By examining closely the facial expression of the baby we can identify...differences between rejection and fullness, for example," said Ciaran Forde, a senior sensory specialist.

Other experiments use live adult test subjects, who are questioned about their eating habits, such as how much of this food versus that food does the subject thinks he would need to feel full. They are even analyzing urine samples in a nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy to unlock the secrets of human metabolism. Aside from food studies, Nestle scientists also use software that tracks a person's eye movement as he looks over a product's packaging to analyze how effectively the product is marketed.

With about 10,000 brands under its name, Nestle's global sales last year nearly reached $105 billion. In 2010, its food and beverage division spent $1.3 billion on research and development.

The company spent 10 years perfecting "extrusion freezing" to make low fat ice cream for their Bryer's Slow Churned ice cream brand. It developed an infant cereal that reduces constipation under their Nestum brand. It even invented a low carbon footprint coffee machine for the Dolce Gusto.

But aside from just improving its products, Nestle is also studying how our bodies crave fat and sugar in order to develop healthier products and help ease the American obesity epidemic. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in four Americans is considered obese.

The challenge is not only to crack the code on how to make healthy food more desirable but also how to trick our bodies into making us feel full faster and longer so we eat less.

After running tests with the artificial stomach, Nestle scientists discovered that olive oil treated with monoglyceride -- a lipid often found in chewing gum, whipped cream, and other bakery products -- will take eight times longer to digest than regular olive oil.

"We think that if it is slower it also will mean that people will feel full for a longer time and then they'll maybe eat less and snack less," explained Heribert Watzke.

Scientists are also developing personalized diets, tailored down to suit an individual's own digestive system.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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